Dibakar Banerjee’s office at Parel’s Chivda Galli (Mumbai), located close to his home and strategically away from Oshiwara, the hub of Bollywood, is deceptively calm. There is none of the flurry that marks film offices weeks ahead of a release.
The director of critically acclaimed films like “Khosla Ka Ghosla”, “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!” and “Love, Sex Aur Dokha“, may seem un-filmi, but he has learnt the ways of Bollywood well in the last seven years since he shifted from Delhi to Mumbai. Just before the release of “Shanghai“, which he describes as a political thriller, the 42-year-old director settles down for an interview with TOI. Excerpts:
Unlike many other directors in Bollywood who are star-chasers, you’re known for your unconventional casting. Is that a stroke of genius or just majboori?
Today, people are calling Emraan Hashmi a box office star, but one year ago when I cast him in “Shanghai“, people who are seen as opinion makers, sneered at me and said, ‘Who? That kissie guy?’ I, of course, can’t stop smiling because I can stand on a roof top and say, ‘This person you have been sniggering at all these years can do this (performance)’. The same goes for Abhay Deol. When I was casting him in ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’ they said, ‘Why are you casting him? He is so non-filmi’, and then suddenly, he became the poster boy for alternative cinema. This gives me the strength to take the next step forward. For instance, you have no idea how much pressure I was put under before the making of “LSD“. After two National Award-winning films, you are expected to work on a big film with a big star. “LSD” was a small film with unknown actors, and yet became successful. Today, I get calls asking me how I made trend-setting films like “LSD“. Even with “Shanghai“, I cast Prosenjit Chatterjee because I wanted the audience to see a new face, and yet feel the impact of a star when he comes into the frame. Filmmaking is all about giving that juicy surprise; a good, commercial surprise.
Talking of “LSD”, both you and your producer Ekta Kapoor are strong-minded individuals. Was it tough working with her?
Ekta Kapoor is one of the easiest persons to work for. She understands strengths and convictions. If she sees something, she will back you to the hilt. For “LSD”, I gave her a 2-minute stealomatic presentation, a very jerky amateurish video kind of thing, to which she said, ‘Is the camera going to shake so much?’ and ‘Will it be this kind of raw footage?’ I said, ‘Yes’, and she immediately gave the go ahead. I also find in Ekta a cool, thinking strategist. She knew that “LSD” would be a fantastic launch product for her Alternative film banner, and that shows a tremendous understanding of branding, of marketing and strategic planning. (Then just to reinforce his special relationship with her, he calls her. ‘Ekta, I want you as my advisor. I want to play a romantic song from “Shanghai” and need your feedback’).
So now that you are working with a big box office star like Emraan, who are the others you wish to work with?
Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol of course, but also Ranbir Kapoor, Randeep Hooda, Ali Zafar, Ranveer Singh… Anushka Sharma (she is stunning and reminds me of Geeta Bali), Tabu, Rani Mukerji.
You seem to want to work with many more men than women.
Aesthetically, there are more guys I want to work with, so may be I am a latent homosexual (grins).
Which are your favourite films?
“Bandit Queen”, “Maqbool”, “Mirch Masala”, “Parinda”, “Sholay”.
Which film directors do you look up to?
Shekhar Kapur. Anurag Kashyap, who really makes life quite interesting. It’s because of Anurag Kashyap’s presence that Indian cinema is exciting and can never be secure. He creates this energy of discomfort. I love his ” Black Friday”. I was an unknown film director when I saw “Black Friday“. I went up to him and shook his hand. Of course he was too drunk to notice me. The same with Vishal Bhardwaj. After I saw “Maqbool“, I went and shook his hand, and said to him, ‘Today you gave me the courage to go ahead and make my film’. I also remember seeing “Bandit Queen” and going into deep depression because I thought this guy has robbed me of my only shot at glory. This was the film that changed my life. I could not believe that an Indian film could be made like this.
You quit NID before you could get your degree, and then instead of art, you chose copy-writing in advertising and all your films are unconventional. Do you have a streak of rebellion in you?
I have often conformed quite smartly. One thing about being a rebel is that you should know when to compromise. That’s how you carry your rebellion forward. I have my convictions and am also open-minded.
You’ve called your film ” Shanghai”. All of us know that connotation. Are you anti-development?
I am not anti-anything. I am just pro-brains. Any development plan that has been thought out, the future road-mapped and if done with a sense of justice and fair play, I am totally open to it. However, if you are doing anything in a dumbass way, which in the long run, creates more problems, even though it may be the flavour of the season, I am against it. Which is why I say I am anti-dumb.
Does “Shanghai” draw anything from your personal life?
Every film of mine draws from my personal life. This film draws from where I live in Parel (Mumbai), the area outside. When I come down from the 20th floor of my swanky building into the chawls, I see people who have been living there for a century moving away to make way for the new multi-storey structures coming up. I am not saying it is good or bad. I can see society change in front of my own eyes. I can see history operate in front of my own eyes. On the 20th floor, every night, I am dancing at a party because down there in the chawl I hear a new DJ with a new remix of a new song and there are political meetings, there are marriages and there is one festival every week. So it’s like I am sitting on a cultural treasure house and every day I get something new. All of this has gone into “Shanghai”– the street band, the loudspeaker, the drum beat, the Mirchi light, the non-stop celebration… So, even though “Shanghai” is a political thriller, in the film we are out on the road dancing, everybody is partying on the road.
Have you thought of your next film yet?
It will be a detective thriller. And one day I will make a love story.